Thursday, July 27, 2017

Big chain conventient stores in Seoul are best for when you’re drunk, broke, or in a rush. Or perhaps at any given moment, you’re living life to the fullest and achieving two out of three of these factors.

Found on just about any block here, convenient stores here are brightly lit, colorful, and attainable beacons of happiness that invite you in with their wide selection of products and services in strong air conditioning. Pantyhose, chocolate, T-Money cards, whiskey, or small items to make a last minute meal—you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. They’re open 24 hours and can be more comforting than any best friend ever could. Depressed and in need of some ice cream? A convenient store would say, “I got you, fam.” Depressed and in need of some soju? A convenient store would respond with, “Say no more.” Or depressed and in need of some delicious processed food? A convenient store would yell back, “Come on over!”

While the eating options there can be endless, there are two standout items that are mostly associated as Korean convenient store food: samgak kimbap and cup ramen.

Samgak kimbaps are triangular shaped kimbaps wrapped in plastic. Their specially designed wrapper is meant to keep the seaweed crisp until ready to be consumed. The plastic has special instructions and a tab you pull at that unwraps it in a way that’s super easy to eat. Under the seaweed is densely packed rice with a filling in the center that comes in a wide spectrum of flavors. They range in traditional fare such as spicy chicken or bulgogi, to more adventurous like spam with eggs or eel. With the average price for samgak kimbaps hovering around $1, they’re an all-time favorite for many and great for snacking on anywhere in thanks to leaving a minimal smell. In fact, they’re so popular and constantly being restocked that a specific time in the day is noted in their expiration date.

The second place champion of convenience store foods would be cup ramen. Cup ramen is the quicker and easier version of ramen, which is like using a microwave with no buttons. For cup ramen, instead of having to get a pot to cook your ramen in, you can simply pour boiling water into the makeshift bowl the cup ramen comes in. Whatever type of noodles you prefer or flavor you’re looking for, there’s a cup ramen out there for you. They’re also available in different sizes, providing options on the level of bloat you want to subsequently feel. Hot water and wooden chopsticks are a given at convenience stores, and a large majority will also have indoor and outdooring seating. That makes eating your cup ramen in peace while leaving no evidence behind as easy as slurping noodles.

With ramen practically being a national pastime, walking by a convenience store to get a quick glance of someone enjoying cup ramen here in Seoul is as common as seeing the shop’s lights on. The slight difference with samgak kimbap is that it’s more often eaten on the go. It’s no surprise though that these two products are the king and queen of convenience store grub because they’re the lightning versions of things that are already loved within Korean food. But whether you’re dining on the store premises or not, samgak kimbap and cup ramen at convenient stores are extremely satisfying bites that can be made into a full meal or hold you over until you eat again. And you can easily grab some banana milk, sausage, or countless other items to make it the full course banquet of your dreams.

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